Does Poverty Lead to Sleep Addiction?

When we've "cured" sleep with new medications, it's possible that slumber will become distasteful to many — and even illegal. What happens in a future where people are vaccinated against sleep, and it's impossible to cope with daily life if you still require eight hours of unconsciousness?

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Over at the Verge, there's an experiment going on. It's called "Multiverge," and it includes stories that are longform investigative reporting — from alternate histories. The first such story takes place in an alternate present, where the U.S. government has banned sleep. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the kinds of resources that allow them to lose sleep comfortably, or without debilitating side-effects.

There's a growing divide between the sleepless ruling class and an underclass that still can't kick the sleep habit.

Writes Adi Robertson:

The scientific consensus is that thanks to a broad expansion of the federal vaccine program, sleep is nearly cured. Roughly 85 percent of Americans are capable of operating at somewhere from 0 to 30 minutes a week, and only 3 percent have proved resistant to the combination of synapse incisions and time-released hormones that greatly reduce or altogether eliminate the sleeping urge and ability. A handful – mostly concentrated in Southern right-Evangelical communities – are granted religious exemptions. Of the 10 percent of the population with diagnosed mood disorders like Stoker's, the vast majority are prescribed less than 90 minutes weekly. But these rosy numbers hide a persistent underclass for whom sleep is everything from medicine to recreation.

As quotas have lowered in recent years, restrictions on sleeplike activities have loosened. After some debate, meditation was removed from the DSM-V in 2013, and the current wisdom suggests that within reasonable limits, it bears little resemblance to a traditional unconscious state. To politicians, however, it is something of a Rubicon. Statistically, there is little evidence for conservative claims that meditation functions as a "gateway drug," especially given its popularity among the middle and upper productivity quintiles. Social progressives have accused them of carrying out a class war by proxy, citing the exceptions for largely upper-middle-class tantric variants in proposed bans on public classes.

But the underlying argument – that current laws and DEA action have failed to contain an epidemic among both urban and rural poor – is more difficult to refute. While partisan think-tanks produce wildly different numbers, a 2011 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey found that 11 million people at or below the poverty line slept over five hours per week – and a stunning 45 percent of those are classified as morbidly narcoleptic, with some sleeping as much as five hours a night. In Detroit, America's most sleep-stricken city, approximately 1,000 infants a year do not receive synaptic therapy until six months of age or later, although the CDC notes that the long-term developmental effects on the waggishly named "slumberkind" remain unclear.

Read the full story over at the Verge.